Wellington City Council has been praised for "deftly dodging" part of an Environment Court ruling about waterfront development.
Wellington Waterfront's project manager, Michael Faherty, emailed the council about a new design brief for the controversial Site 10 on Wellington's waterfront, congratulating it on its cleverness in interpreting "greater than 9 metres" as "at least 9m".
But while Waterfront chief executive Ian Pike labelled Mr Faherty's choice of words "unfortunate", he said they would not have influenced the design.
The email from Mr Faherty responded to the council's urban design manager, Brian Hannah, who had asked him to check a new design brief for the North Kumutoto site to see if there was anything that was a surprise or "has unintended consequences for you".
The new design followed an Environment Court decision earlier this year scuppering the council's district plan change setting maximum size limits for three proposed building sites on an eight-hectare slice of prime waterfront land between Queens Wharf and Wellington railway station.
The court found in favour of objectors, ruling the buildings would be too high and threatened the heritage character of the area.
It also found a requirement that buildings on Site 10 be 9m back from the water's edge was insufficient.
"Given the length of frontage at issue we do not find the 9m setback, as it has been crafted, acceptable. We consider that a greater setback is required, given the available depth of building from Waterloo Quay," the decision said.
After the finding, the council created the new brief for the site to guide future development.
In his feedback to that document, Mr Faherty complimented the handling of the 9m issue.
"I note you have deftly dodged the Env Court direction for a greater than 9m setback from the waters edge by requiring ". . . a setback of at least 9m"," he wrote.
The brief eventually went out for public consultation, and a final version will be considered by the council's strategy and policy committee tomorrow.
That version has a clause that site 10 buildings "should align with the eastern facade of Shed 21". A footnote then clarifies: "This represents a setback of at least 9m."
Wellington policy adviser Alana Bowman, a member of the Waterfront Watch group that spearheaded objections to the district plan change, uncovered the email through an official information request.
She was "shocked" by the comments, which showed the brief was deliberately worded to skirt the court's finding, she said.
"The language is clear that there is a deliberate distortion of what the court held . . . It seems that it's a predetermined outcome."
But Mr Pike said that though Mr Faherty used the wrong words he wasn't "overly concerned" because the process had not been "subverted".
"The language used there is unfortunate . . . The facts of the matter, though, are that we don't have a great degree of influence on this process at all - it is a council-led process."
The 9m matter was not as important as aligning with existing buildings, he said.
"Therefore, Shed 21 has set the benchmark."
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